Black Youth Helpline: Making a difference for mental health and well-being
The Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund is proud to support the mental health and well-being of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities across Canada. We spoke with Black Youth Helpline (BYH), one of the inaugural partners of the fund to shed light on experiences lived by members of the Black community and how the organization provides culturally-informed mental health and well-being support.
The Black Youth Helpline is a nation-wide, charitable, non-profit organization that focuses on vulnerable children and youth across Canada, with a specific emphasis on under-resourced communities and Black youth. Their mission is to advance the potential of youth, as well as promote excellence and asset-building in our communities, through a focus on three key areas: education, mental health/illness and women’s development. Read the interview below to learn more.
Can you provide examples of the types of support Canadians are reaching out to BYH for? And how the organization is responding to those needs?
The greatest and most pressing needs identified in our communities are related to education system challenges and a range of issues related primarily to systemic barriers and overall community well-being.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black youth and their families. Calls to the helpline have ranged from families whose health was severely impacted, those whose income was devastated by lockdowns and unemployed or underemployed youth looking for job opportunities. Parents seeking to address learning losses observed in their children due to school closures, schools looking for added well-being support for their students and all while confronting the challenges of finding ways to improve teaching effectiveness in the new reality of hybrid and digital environments.
What role does culture play in the mental health and well-being support you provide?
At Black Youth Helpline we employ culturally-relevant approaches to understanding and addressing the needs of children, youth, families and schools.
Culture is at the core of what we do. We believe that approaches that are used to support the mental health and well-being of our communities must be grounded in an ethos of mutual respect, cross-cultural understanding and cultural connection. This helps ensure that the assessment process is approached with no preconceived ideas, stereotypes, assumptions or labels. Rather, it creates space for an exchange that reflects a caring understanding of each client. It also requires a willingness on the part of the professional to listen, learn from and weave client perspectives and experiences into the overall assessment process.
The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 raised awareness on the impact of racial discrimination on mental health. Did you notice an increase in demands since 2020, and if so, how was your organization able to adapt?
In Black communities, awareness of the impact of racial discrimination on mental health had long predated the George Floyd incident. What changed was awareness of the need to face the reality of the issue and across cultures.
The demand for Black Youth Helpline services drastically increased in both complexity and volume by March 2020 and reflected three major co-occurring forces:
- The evolving COVID-19 pandemic with its fear of the unknown
- The closure of many mainstream services
- The stress and impact of George Floyd’s death on Canadians as a whole
Our solid, professional volunteer-base and Black Youth Helpline’s virtual service delivery model, which has been in place since 1992 proved ideal during the course of the pandemic and provided the versatility needed to respond to clients seeking support.
Can you please share with us what innovative programs you are working on?
Innovation is one of our core values at the Black Youth Helpline and our volunteers and professionals are always looking for new ways to serve our clients and our country. For 2021 and beyond some of our key initiatives include:
- Health Strategy —The Pathways Project which is working to create access into professional, mainstream mental health and illness care for vulnerable youth and their families.
- Education Strategy —Exclusion Zero! We are engaging with school districts across the country to make our vision of zero exclusion from schools for vulnerable and under-resourced youth a reality nation-wide.
- The Black Open-to-Learning and Driven (BOLD) Project which focuses on developing Canada’s next generation of leaders and supporting their successful participation in today’s job market.
What would you say to someone from the Black community considering getting support for their mental health?
Three key suggestions:
- Avoid self-stigma with issues of mental health. Mental health is as important as physical health and there is no shame in seeking out care in either domain. On the other hand, seek out appropriate guidance so that you are not incorrectly labelling e.g. what may be the normal grief process as a mental health or mental illness issue.
- Intervene with self or family members at the earliest possible point. Early intervention leads to optimal recovery opportunities. Try and access care before situations reach crisis proportions.
- Find the right mental-health practitioner. Make sure that they are professionally trained and have the appropriate skills for this complex work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you feel you aren’t getting the care you need, it is okay to ask another provider for a second opinion.
To learn more about the work of Black Youth Helpline or access support, visit their website at www.blackyouth.ca. Their national helpline for Canadian youth can be reached toll free at 1-833-294-8650 daily from 9am to 10pm ET.
For more perspectives about race and mental health, read Talking to experts about the mental health impacts of racial discrimination, featuring interviews with two of our Diversity Fund Advisors.